, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 17 – Every sunset brings a new set of challenges for the Maasai pastoralists in Kenya.
This is the time when their main source of livelihood, livestock, is at risk from predation by lions, leopards, hyenas, cheetahs or jackals.
Mzee Michael Ole Ntete, a resident of Oletipis village in Kajiado County is a victim of the predators, and in his own words, narrates his personal experience: “In the dead of the night, especially when it is raining, they (predators) attack and kill livestock. Personally, I have lost more than 128 goats to lions.”
With more than 70 per cent of wildlife in Kenya living outside protected areas, many community members like Michael often find themselves at the mercy of predators. 70pc of this predation happens in the livestock enclosures (bomas) at night and is the most significant in terms of numbers of stock killed, estimated at 5-15 heads of cattle per household annually resulting in annual loss in the range of $500-7,500.
Predation also has a profound effect on the productivity of the men as they spend nights protecting livestock and still have to work during the day.
The stress of night predation also wears off all tolerance to predators and leads to retaliatory killings of large carnivores, mainly lions. This vicious cyclic phenomenon is what has led to Human Wildlife Conflicts (HWC).
This is the situation in Kajiado County, a home to the Maasai and their unique pastoralist way of life in an open land where they coexist with the wildlife.
The county ecosystem is mainly composed of open grasslands with patches of open bush and acacia riverine woodlands, and is a corridor to wildlife migration.Increased population and need for development has has led to encroachment into wildlife corridors and a reduction of the land available to wildlife and livestock in Kajiado.
This has inevitably led to competition for resources and HWC. The community retaliatory attacks have overtime become the major source of loss of large predators than from any other cause. By end of 2014, this led to a significant decline in lion population from the Nairobi National Park to just about 25 lions.
Left on their Own
According to Mzee Ole Ntete, “The Maasai have co-existed peacefully with wildlife for many years but the wildlife doesn’t always reciprocate that same peace.” He adds that “We go at a loss and the lions go back to their dens and nobody cares.”
For a long time, Maasai pastoralists in Kajiado felt that their plight was not adequately addressed. From Mzee Ntete’s sentiments, they had challenges with wildlife, but also suffered from what they perceived as neglect from institutions and organisations responsible for wildlife management.
The community did not only retaliate in killing lions but also became intolerant to Conservation personnel and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) staff whom they perceived to care more for wildlife than their own livestock.
Consequently, the community often resisted efforts aimed at minimizing retaliatory attacks, and occasionally assaulted those leading such efforts.
At the same time, due to the lack of grid power and the remoteness of this area, energy for house lighting is sourced mainly from the use of paraffin.
This has a profound effect especially on the women and school-going children who have to do their house chores and school studies respectively by use of paraffin lamps.
The paraffin lamps have a poor spectrum of light that affects the users’ eyesight, and emit smoke that leads to respiratory infections and add to the global greenhouse emissions.
Lack of access to electricity also means that people have to walk long distances in search of power to charge their mobile phones.
Lights out for predators
Towards the end of 2014, WWF-Kenya in partnership with The Wildlife Foundation (TWF) started dissemination of solar-powered Predator Deterrent Lights (PDL), popularly referred to as the Lion Lights, to mitigate HWC, as well as household lighting systems.
The major intervention revolved around the protection of wildlife by securing community livelihoods, through protection of livestock, using sustainable energy solutions. They included community sensitization with participation from different stakeholders including KWS and County government to enhance understanding and ownership of the problem, highlight intended pilot solution, achieve community buy-in and agree on implementation approach including selection criteria of beneficiaries for the pilot interventions.
Use of solar Predator Deterrent Lights (PDL) technology for bomas, consisting of flashing LED lights that mimic movement of people and interfere with night vision of predators. Accompanying the PDL is solar systems for lighting houses and charging mobile phones.
Strategic partnership with The Wildlife Foundation who were responsible for community awareness and relations, beneficiary identification, and technology dissemination including warranty and maintenance was yet another key intervention.
The interventions have since brought about significant outcomes, the main one, according to Mzee Ntete, is zero predation in bomas with PDL installations. “Since the installation of the lights on my boma, we have never had predation attack. I used to guard my boma the whole night but nowadays I sleep well.”
In addition, there’s now greater tolerance toward lions as the community now reports incidences of stray lions to authorities as opposed to killing them. A lion migratory route between Amboseli Park and Athi Kaputiei ecosystem has since been opened, leading to increased lion numbers in the Nairobi National Park from 25 before the project inception to 42 by end of 2016.
The household lighting systems have also proved to be more effective for lighting homes and enabling families make savings on paraffin and mobile phone charging.
Mzee Ntete’s wife, Mary Ntete, made this observation: “Before the solar lights were installed, we had been using paraffin for lighting but it is not effective. The solar light is much brighter. I can see every corner of the house. We have also saved a lot of money which we now use to buy books for children besides saving some for the future.”
Solar lights have also enabled school-going children to effectively study at night, and some children have reported improved academic performance.
The impact of the project has also attracted additional support from other investors keen on supporting a business case pilot, in an attempt to shift from pure donor funding towards income generating approach, and hence long-term sustainability.
This support has made it possible to technically improve on the technology, from a bulb-and-wire system to stand-alone plug-and-play system, and have it readily available to meet the growing demand.